Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Leadership and Luck: Fortune favors the hard-working (and decisive and flexible and trusting...)

In "More luck than judgment," in today's Financial Times, Morgan Witzel draws together a range of perspectives about luck and its place in business and leadership. Many of the varied voices in the piece circle around the familiar understanding that those who commit to hard work and preparation make their own luck. However, an important finer point involves the need not only to prepare but, as (entrepreneur) Julian Richer says, to "tak[e] advantage of opportunities." In other words, luck involves not only the hard work of preparation but also the good judgment allowing for recognition of opportunity, and, crucially, the capability to make decisions pursue or seize that opportunity.

For leaders, complicating the familiar understanding of hard work or preparation for luck in this way can be valuable. Hard work is too broad. We do better to think of smart work marked by the capability to recognize opportunity and then the decisiveness to act upon it. Analysis, recognition and decision-making can thus be acknowledged as discrete aspects of "hard work" that can, in turn, be honed if we are to maximize our preparation for luck.

At the same time, Witzel closes his piece by referencing Machiavelli's Prince and how luck, fortuna, will nevertheless remain elusive. Luck may reward preparation but it is also finally outside the control of individuals, however hard-working or capable. The further attribute he therefore recommends for leaders is flexibility. By adopting a willingness not only to take decisive action when opportunities present themselves but to do so with agility, openness and trust, leaders may most fully benefit from the lucky chances (hopefully) surrounding them.

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